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29 Jul, 2021 17:17

Israel to offer Covid booster shot for over-60s, PM Bennett says amid vaccine efficacy worries

Israel to offer Covid booster shot for over-60s, PM Bennett says amid vaccine efficacy worries

Israel is set to roll out a scheme to give a third Covid jab to people aged over 60, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has announced, in a bid to increase protection amid fears vaccine efficacy diminishes over time.

The Health Ministry approved the move on Thursday, with its Director-General Nachman Ash ordering the booster program to start this weekend, according to earlier reports in Israeli media. Israeli citizens over the age of 60 who received their second dose over five months ago will reportedly be eligible to receive a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

Bennett officially confirmed the move on Thursday evening, saying that Israel's president would be the first to receive a Covid booster shot the following day.

The decision comes after a panel of health experts recommended on Wednesday that booster jabs be administered to elderly members of the population, with findings published by Pfizer also advocating for a third shot. The pharmaceutical firm found that in 65–85-year-olds a third dose offered an increase of up to 11 times the level of antibodies protecting against the Delta variant of Covid-19 than after the initial two jabs.

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Currently, just 59% of Israel’s population is fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Recent studies conducted in Israel have suggested that the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine decreases with time, with one published this week by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem saying that Pfizer’s effectiveness in preventing serious illness has dropped to 80%, likely due to the Delta variant proving harder for the immune system to fight. Pfizer’s efficacy had stood at 90% before the mutant strain.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that given the “hugely uneven and inequitable” disparity in vaccine supplies between richer and poorer nations, the priority should be the global distribution of initial doses, rather than boosters.

“Some countries and regions are actually ordering millions of booster doses, before other countries have had supplies to vaccinate their health workers and most vulnerable,” he noted.

The US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a statement on July 8 stating that Americans currently do not need booster doses, but the agencies say they would consider the move in the future. The European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control have also said that it is too early to determine if a third jab is needed, citing a lack of data.

Israel is one of the first countries in the world to offer booster shots. Hungary recently announced that it will offer its citizens a third shot from August 1 onwards.

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